Navigating the Complexity of Kubernetes Security in Cloud Native Applications

In the ever-evolving realm of information technology, cloud native applications have emerged as a transformative force. With their unparalleled scalability and flexible development and deployment capabilities, migrating to the cloud has become the logical progression for organizations of all sizes and industries. However, the initial steps into the cloud often mirrored existing infrastructure, relying on “lift and shift” migrations, which proved to be neither cost-effective nor efficient for running workloads.

To address this challenge, technologies like Kubernetes were developed, ushering in a new era of cloud infrastructure management. Long-lived systems gave way to ephemeral containers, and the mantra of “cattle, not pets” became the norm among DevOps practitioners. Servers ceased to be hand-crafted bespoke systems with extended lifetimes, shifting toward dynamic provisioning and automatic scaling based on workload demand. Management evolved to focus on the abstract level of the resources provided.

Despite these advancements, security practices in these new cloud native environments often clung to legacy methods. Just as “lift and shift” proved inadequate for cloud migrations, traditional security practices were shown to be ill-suited for safeguarding these modern application deployment approaches.

So, why is Kubernetes security so complicated? Whenever a resource is abstracted, making it easier for one team to manage, it poses new challenges for another. The shift from physical servers to virtual machines and, subsequently, to containers brought about the need for security considerations at multiple layers, from service-to-service communication to cluster-wide controls.

Managing security at these diverse layers is a non-trivial task. It involves authentication, authorization, the management of secrets and security certificates, controlling and securing traffic flows, and monitoring for anomalies, all while ensuring compliance with governmental, industry, and customer audit requirements. Traditional security practices remain relevant, such as software patching, enforcing least-privileged access, and securing perimeters against unauthorized access.

Given the complexity and diversity of potential threats, many organizations have adopted a strategy known as “defense in depth.” This involves implementing multiple layers of security to slow down attackers and limit the damage in case of a breach. Defense in depth is complemented by the concept of “zero trust security,” which challenges the assumption of trust and requires verification for all communications.

However, implementing defense in depth can be expensive and time-consuming, often involving disparate tools that may not communicate effectively. The risk of leaving coverage gaps that attackers can exploit is a real concern.

Legacy solutions, while of high quality, were developed in response to known or perceived threats. They excel at protecting legacy constructs like virtual machines and network perimeters but fall short in safeguarding modern, federated, microsegmented, cloud native applications. Contemporary security tools often fail to share information effectively, impeding a cohesive defense in depth strategy.

To simplify Kubernetes security, organizations can adopt several best practices:

  1. Regularly scan container images for vulnerabilities.
  2. Avoid running processes as root or assigning excessive privileges.
  3. Implement the principle of least-privileged access.
  4. Secure pod-to-pod and service-to-service communications.
  5. Embrace zero trust security, applying mutual transport layer security (mTLS).
  6. Develop a robust secrets management strategy.
  7. Apply security as policy to adapt to changing needs.
  8. Prioritize observability, not just metrics.

Controlling the entry and egress of traffic into applications is another crucial aspect of Kubernetes security. Malicious or malfunctioning upstream applications can overwhelm networks, necessitating the use of an enterprise-grade API gateway for rate-limiting, authentication, authorization, and advanced networking security.

In conclusion, securing Kubernetes-based applications is a challenging endeavor but not an insurmountable one. A layered security approach, coupled with a zero trust mindset, and a modern security solution that provides maximum visibility and control in a dynamic environment are the keys to success.

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Gloo by solutions combine best-in-class service mesh technologies and the leading API gateway to create a unified Kubernetes security platform for next-generation cloud native applications. With powerful integrations, it extends the value of existing threat-prevention tooling. Gloo provides the ability to create custom policies using standards-based web assembly language, offering maximum observability for applications across any cloud, without vendor lock-in.

In the ever-evolving landscape of cloud native applications, Gloo by stands as a beacon of security, simplifying Kubernetes security and providing the protection modern applications demand.

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